Tales from the Jugular

Metal Goes Wild West!

By: Eric Compton & Frank Hill
Published: Saturday, October 15, 2016
The rugged West...outlaws, gunfights and bravado. It's rebellion in history, mythology and Hollywood's big screen. The North American wild, wild West of the late 1700s through the turn of the 20th century is popularized in pop culture through movies, books and comics galore. The cowboy image has revolved around iconic actors like Roy Rogers, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood and immortalized in fiction through talented authors like Louis L'Amour, Zane Grey, William Johnstone, and Larry McMurtry. Essentially the wild West, or what is referred to in childhood as politically incorrect "Cowboys and Indians", is fascinating. North America, west of the Continental Divide, at one point was filled with grizzled mountain men, brave Native American warriors, fast-draw gunmen, uniformed Calvary and hopeful gold miners set in an atmosphere as cold and wild as the men and women that faced it.

It makes perfect sense for heavy metal to firmly embrace this lifestyle. Hardened men and women hit the road with six-strings instead of six-guns. They blaze their own trails and go against the grain of mainstream media. It's loud and proud and preaches unity with a closed fist in the air and sparks rebellion with the strum of the strings. Jon Bon Jovi, love him or hate him, ushered in the theme of the rock star on the road with the 80s smash hit "Wanted, Dead or Alive", a generation after old-time rocker Bob Segar summarized it with "Turn the Page" in the 70s. Everyone from Lemmy Kilmister to Phil Lynott has fantasized about cowboys both in stage presentation, writing and lifestyle.

Here at Maximum Metal we have stumbled on countless songs and conceptual albums based on the wild West and cowboy culture. We thought it fitting to throw out a few of our favorites here with a few notes about the band, album or song. Tie your horse off, fetch a beer and sit a spell with us, pardner.
Back in the Saddle
With filthy metaphors and old west imagry, the band combined sex and saloons, stomp beats and shined up pistols for one of their heavier songs from the 1976 album Rocks. Listen close for horse gallops and bullwhip sounds. Gene Autry may have rolled in his grave when it was released.

Cowboy Song
Taken from the 1993 album 'The Sound of White Noise' – Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott was obsessed with cowboys and often showcased that passion in his writing. Lynott penned this ode to the old west cowboy with drummer Brian Downey. While the 1976 original is fantastic we decided to list the equally good Anthrax cover tune to fit the "metal" theme of the list.

Talk of the Guns
Taken from the 1994 album 'Between the Walls' – This German guitarist has had a plethora of fantasy themed albums and songs throughout his thirty year career. The 'Between the Walls' album has an overall western theme to it with songs like 'Cry of the Gypsy' and 'Outlaw' both presenting cowboy/drifter lyrics. "Talk of the Guns", the album opener, is a fast paced track about a gunfighter trying to erase his past while on the run from the law. The rather alarming last lines, "Hang'em High", suggests our gunfighter has seen his last sunset.

Wanted, Dead or Alive
During a February 20, 2008 encore performance in Detroit Michigan Jon Bon Jovi told the crowd about running into Bob Seger at a Pistons game. As he introduced his song "Wanted Dead or Alive", he said it was inspired by Seger's "Turn the Page" and called the song the band's anthem. From their 1986 album Slippery When Wet, it may be the most well know of all the cowboy hard rock songs.

Ghost Riders in the Sky
Taken from the 2011 album '3rd Round Knockout' – This is the CLASSIC song originally written in 1948 by Stan Jones (who may have lifted the idea from the Irish folk-song "Spancill Hill"). Countless artists have covered this song across all genres of music. Chrome Division isn't even the only metal version as Impaled Nazarene and Children of Bodom have taken their shot at it as well. Boozer biker band Chrome Division do a great take on the song by speeding it up.

The German band Dezperadoz, a hybrid of musicians from bands like Onkel Tom and Pink Cream 69, committed to a fully themed CD named The Legend And The Truth where they loosely tell the tale of the iconic old west lawman Wyatt Earp from birth onto his friendship with Doc Holiday and the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. 'Rawhide' is a bang-on send up of the original recorded by Frankie Laine in teh late 50s. If you love the Clint Eastwood-Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns and wished they just had some metal in them, then TLatT is a flash of gold in the flowing stream of mud and dirt out there.

Stone Cold Metal
Although it leans heavy into folk metal, "Stone Cold Metal" on 2009's From Afar has a whistling section that could have come from a Ennio Morricone western. Stick with it for the way cool banjo solo around the six minute mark.

Reach for the Sky
From the 1992 album 'Hold Your Fire' – While Firehouse is typically in the vein of softer hard rock, this single was one of their heaviest cuts. The song's title refers to an outlaw on the run who is robbing people and demanding they put their hands in the air. You can't help but sing along to the addictive chorus.

This Worm's For Ennio
Known for their sleeze rock, Sweden's Hardcore Superstar surprised a lot of fans with the Spaghetti Western-themed opening track "This Worm's For Ennio" on 2009's Beg For It album. It is a tribute to the sounds of Italian composer, Ennio Morricone.

Taken from the 2014 album 'Plagues of Babylon' – Iced Earth have presented lots of different material ranging from science-fiction to comic characters to US history. "Peacemaker" is a dedicated yarn about a weary cowboy who drifts into town and simply wants to be left alone. Unfortunately he gets caught up in a gunfight and relies on his "Peacemaker" to bail him out. The song is in reference to the Colt Peacemaker revolver that was heavily used from 1870 through World War II.

From the 2016 album 'Titancraft' – While Iron Savior typically write conceptual albums revolving around their constant science-fiction storyline, this song is themed after the popular 1960 film 'The Magnificent Seven', which was a western treatment of a Japanese film called 'Seven Samurai'. The story is about seven gun-fighters who come to the aid of a village overran by outlaws and bandits. The German power metal act throw in the mandatory big chorus.

Public Enemy No. 1
Taken from the 2011 album 'Th1rt3en' – While not a traditional western song, the lyrics to this fast-tempo burner fit the mold perfectly. The son of a lifetime fugitive follows his father's footsteps and robs banks. The song is about him breaking out of jail "with a smoking gun" and stealing a car to make a run from the cops. The fun accompanying video puts this somewhere around in the 1930s.

Cowboys from Hell
"Cowboys from Hell" is the band's first single off their major label debut album of the same name. Musically, this stuttering riff classic doesn't reflect the old west, but the lyrics are all cowboy swagger. 1990's Cowboys from Hell was recorded in Texas and the cover art depicts the band set in a 1910 photo of the "Cosmopolitan Saloon" in Telluride, Colorado.

Crimson Renegade
If there is a new sub-genre called Spaghetti Western Metal, then there is no better place for it to originate in. Italy's Redwest have conceived a western concept album called 'Crimson Renegade' to serve as not only their debut album. Lyrically the album is robust with adventure and romanticism and is saddled between groove rhythms and a slight nod to European power metal.

Modern Day Cowboy
Taken from their 1986 debut Mechanical Resonance, we had a debate between us as to whether Modern Day Cowboy should be included on this list. The song's lyrics make references to criminals such as Billy the Kid and Al Capone... so is it cowboy or gangster or maybe both?

Doc Holliday
Taken from the 2013 album 'Outlaw Gentlemen & Shady Ladies' – stoner/rockabilly act Volbeat have countless "rebel" songs permeating their discography. It's hard to pick out just one, but if I were to stick my Bowie Knife on one it would be bruiser "Doc Holliday". The cut is as mean and violent as the cowboy it's penned about.

Non-Metal "Cowboy" Tunes Recommended:

Chris LeDoux – "This Cowboy's Hat"

Marshall Tucker Band - "Fire on the Mountain"

Willie Nelson - "The Red Headed Stranger"

Johnny Cash - "Don't Take Your Guns to Town"

Corb Lund - "Weight of the Gun"

[Other Maximum Metal Columns]

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